Studying master paintings is an excellent way to learn more about composition. If not familiar with the practice one may not know where to start. I put together the steps that I took to make a small mastercopy drawing after Veronese’s ‘Judith with the head of Holofernes.
Above all else I was looking to find the structure of the piece and measure everything against each other to make sure that it would turn out proportional. You can see some tick marks (especially in the first beginning one) that were used to make sure parts were lining up. whichever work you are doing a copy/ study after decide which area you will start in and measure all areas against one another.
Once you have some structure to your drawing you can start with tone. You do NOT need (in fact I recommend against it) to finish the ‘line’ part of your drawing before going into tone – I just started with a small part of the line drawing before incorporating tone. I say this because you want to move away from ‘filling in’ values and rather integrate value and tone into the geometric structure of your drawing by having line and tone work together simultaneously.
The completed drawing after Veronese. Doing these is helpful for many reasons not least of which is that it helps your abilities to measure and study value. In addition, if you approach doing a mastercopy drawing in such a way that you are looking at it in terms of studying its geometric and value structure (as the above drawings show) then you will learn a lot about the composition of the piece. By this I mean that you will see how the work is laid out in terms of where the lights are concentrated and where the darks – the abstract elements. I hope this inspired you to pick out a painting of your own and do a study from it!